Big Ideas ALA President’s Letter

Taking Training to Heart

How important is good training? Over the years, I’ve learned it’s pretty vital in most areas of life. But I got the most eye-opening lesson regarding this when I was 18.

Gary Swisher, CLM

I had decided I wanted to learn how to fly. From the start, in so many ways, this was a bad idea. My instructor, though from a reputable and admirable organization, just wasn’t that into it. That should have been my first clue — as far as trainings go, when you’re learning to fly a plane, you really want the instructor to be super committed.

But I did love it, so I stuck with it, and I was excited when it came time for my first solo round-trip flight between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Here I was, flying all alone, marveling at the beautiful scenery and truly enjoying life … until I had to contact the airport. My instructor had not taught me about the instruments on the plane — just the basics, like how to tune the radio to the airport I was heading to.

My transmission went something like this: “Daytona Beach Airport, this is a student pilot asking permission for a touch-and-go.” This is what I heard: “XWA787, you are free to do a touch-and-go on runway blah blah.” This was my first clue that I did not have adequate training. Bewildered, I responded: “Where is runway blah blah?” After a long pause and a noticeably different tone, he responded, “It’s the short runway next to the two long runways.”

That I understood … or so I thought. But here’s what I saw: two long runways, one shorter runway parallel to the longer runways, and one really short runway perpendicular to the long runways. (I soon found out that that really short runway was the taxiway.) Guess which one I took?

Within seconds of my touch-and-go — which I was pretty proud of, I might add — I heard “XWA787, what are you doing?!?!” He did not seem as proud. I answered, “You said the short runway!” He answered, “Not that short runway! Please take a left and get out of my airspace!”

Not surprisingly, I never went on to get my pilot’s license.

This month’s cover story, “Modern Development,” tackles how important it is for us as legal managers to ensure our staff is not just receiving regular training and professional development, but the appropriate kind that meets employees’ current needs. Oftentimes, this means shifting from more general, one-size-fits-all trainings to more detailed programs that take into account the needs of the firm’s business, clients and attorneys.

One thing the article suggests is to incorporate active, hands-on training to boost engagement and to make it more meaningful. For example, Blank Rome LLP offers mock trials that take place in actual Philadelphia courtrooms with former judges presiding over the cases. They aim to tailor it to the stage of development the lawyer is in.

Needless to say, this kind of “active training” would have benefited me greatly on the runway that day. Instead, I found out what the numbers on the runways mean when I was on my own in a very real scenario.

But I invite you to check out this article. As firms, we need to keep adapting to remain competitive and recruit today’s top candidates. And professional development is an area that firms can really use to stand out from the crowd.

And don’t neglect your own professional development either. I love taking advantage of the variety of continuing education opportunities that ALA offers. I wouldn’t be the legal manager I am today without these opportunities. There’s also still time to take advantage of my favorite education event of the year — the Annual Conference & Expo. I hope to see many of you in National Harbor, Maryland, in May! (I’ll be flying there, but merely as a passenger.)